Tuesday, September 7, 2004

One Flu Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Killer Bees in the backyard! SARS on the airplane! Toxic mold in the kitchen! Popular media incessantly chirp that death could be lurking anywhere from your mailbox to your muffin spatula.

The latest from the scare factory--The Bird Flu.

Scientists discovered this deadly virus in nine species of wild birds in Thailand. It has the potential to mutate and spread among humans, sparking a global pandemic that could kill millions of people. But with a pathetic name like "The Bird Flu" I predict it will be difficult to attain the proper level of panic for this lethal disease.

I can drudge up some alarm for West Nile Virus. It sounds foreign and spooky. Even SARS has the ring of a sinister tyrant from another planet. But "The Bird Flu?" Birds aren't scary. They're delicate and whimsical. They sing pretty songs. And if the need arose, I feel confident I could take one out.

When confronted in the wild, they're skittish and scared. When faced on the road they hop along feeble and confused as we barrel down the pavement. Birds are so easy to bully. They pose no real threat and so no one will be scared of their namesake flu.I like whipping up a frenzy as much as the next person. So I thought I'd lend a hand and inject the title of this deadly virus with a little more, well, deadliness. (For the record, I have not received any compensation--as of yet--from the government. I am spreading bird fear completely of my own accord.)

Let's face it. Birds have had it in for us for quite some time. They've endured ages of little boys' stones, of being the sole target of beebee guns and neighborhood cats. We've ruffled their feathers for years with offensive portrayals in movies, television and Christmas carols. No self-respecting partridge would be caught dead in a pear tree and don't even get them started on Big Bird. The Avian-American community really flew off the handle when Falcon Crest left the primetime line-up.

We use their traits as fodder for common insults. Nagging women are "henpeckers." Stupid people are "bird brained." Show any sign of fear and you're a "chicken." Refer to yourself in the third-person and you're "cuckoo."

Crapping on our cars was only phase one of their revenge attack. You'd think twice about brushing off "The Bird Flu" if you knew that an eagle can kill and carry away an animal as large as a young deer. Harpy eagles often feed on monkeys. Could your child be next?You wouldn't bully another bird if you knew the Antarctic Petrel repels enemies by regurgitating food in their faces with a force great enough to knock over a human. Let's see your little old grandmother protect herself from that.

The African Bateleur Eagle hunts over a territory of two hundred and fifty square miles a day. That's the same area as forty neighborhoods, seventeen playgrounds and more than fifty busy intersections. Could the Bateleur eagle be hunting over your lunchtime crosswalk?

So you see, birds, like their flu, are vicious and terrifying.Even the common chicken poses a threat. It is estimated that there is one chicken for every person on this earth. Yours could be staking out your house as you read this. My best advice, board up your doors and windows, avoid going outside. But if you do, beware of chickens crossing the road, because they could have--The Bird Flu.